“Structural violence is silent.”

Jean Zaru, a Palestinian Quaker woman*, offers this insight as she writes about the impact of the Israeli Government’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. She offers a lens for analyzing structures of injustice such as political, cultural, economic, and social structures. In this posting, I focus on the Jerusalem Light Rail Train (JLRT) and how it is part of the silent, economic structural violence occurring in East Jerusalem. Through such violence, Palestinian society and Israeli society in Jerusalem are being torn apart. Ending this occupation and finding a just peace is critical for future co-existence.

JLRT on the Green Line - Westbound, Jerusalem - 13 Feb. 2011 - Photo: Sherry Ann

The JLRT appears at first glance to be evidence of improved infrastructure in East Jerusalem. It has a sleek design and a street-level entry system for passengers. (See videos #1 and #2  [At the 4 min. point of #2, the JLRT drives past the site of the Palestinian home demolition in French Hill; I described it on 5 Jan. 2011]). However, this new transportation feature is a bizarre sight amid the crumbling environment that is East Jerusalem. The Jerusalem municipality is responsible for maintaining the infrastructure of East Jerusalem; and yet, despite paying into the same tax system as people from West Jerusalem, those in East Jerusalem are watching their area fall apart.

JLRT tracks on the Green Line – West Jerusalem is on the left. East Jerusalem is on the right. – 13 Feb. 2011 – Photo: Sherry Ann

“…the Jerusalem municipality has not provided adequate planning, construction or infrastructure to their [East Jerusalemite] neighborhoods for decades, a legacy of discriminatory neglect that starkly contrasts with the general situation in West Jerusalem and in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. 115 … The municipality itself is responsible for the poor condition of the road and sewage networks in East Jerusalem, and for the dense and unplanned nature of its residential areas, in sharp distinction to Western Jerusalem.” (Separate & Unequal, 2010, p. 50; the superscript note “115” refers to the following document: ACRI, “Human Rights in East Jerusalem – Facts and Figures, May 2010,”).

JLRT Westbound by the Old City, Jerusalem - 13 Feb. 2011 - Photo: Sherry Ann

Upon closer examination, the JLRT is an ominous development. East Jerusalem is occupied, yet through illegal settlements, the Israeli Government is transporting Israeli citizens into this occupied territory.  Through the JLRT, settlers are being given ease of access to central Jerusalem  for work, school, and other daily activities. (See the locations of settlements in the deep purple on this map). This population transfer is a war crime according to Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention (see here and here).

By creating this people-mover system, the Israeli Government is proceeding with its annexation of East Jerusalem toward its goal of a united capital for the state of Israel. Such annexation is illegal according to international humanitarian law (See here and here).

Public notice banner - Shu'afat, East Jerusalem - 10 Dec. 2010 - Photo: Sherry Ann

Planning for the JLRT began in 2000. By 2020, the network is to have eight lines. The first line is nearing completion. Since December 2010, we have watched trains out for test drives and we have sat in public buses in the traffic caused by the construction, particularly in Shu’afat. This is a neighbourhood through which the JLRT will travel as it heads north and then east. To build the JLRT tracks, the Israeli Government has expropriated Palestinian private property; in addition, public roadways and parking spaces have been taken over to reconfigure space for the JLRT tracks. With little space in which to drive and/or park, local shoppers have been less able to support local businesses. The destruction of property in occupied territory is illegal according to Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the confiscation of property in occupied territory is illegal according to Article 46 of the Hague Regulations. Worth noting is that only 3 of 23 stops on this first JLRT line are in Palestinian areas. The other 20 stops are located in West Jerusalem, along the Green Line, and in the illegal settlements of East Jerusalem.  (Note: The Green Line is termed Route No.1 on this map.)

JLRT track construction - Shu'afat, Jerusalem - 10 Dec. 2010 - Photo: Sherry Ann

I perceive that the JLRT is an example of economic structural violence. Jean Zaru observes that, “Violence, after all, is not only about war and weaponry. Political, cultural, economic, and social structures have been at work in a destructive way throughout our community” (Zaru, 2008, p. 61). The examples that she gives for economic structural violence include restricted freedom of movement by Israeli  road blocks and control of roads; economic marginalization and exclusion; and destruction of civil society and infrastructure.

After three months of riding the Green bus to and from Shu’afat refugee camp, Qalandiya Checkpoint, and the Old City (all in East Jerusalem), this violence seems mind-bendingly subtle. Looking out the window, I see a diversity of people in terms of ethnicity, race, religion, age, gender, profession, civilian/military status. Yet, East Jerusalem is not a place in which all of these people mix and mingle easily. The Israeli citizens who live in East-Jerusalem settlements have an illegal presence. I’ve heard local people speculating about the anticipated ridership of this JLRT; it would seem that West Jerusalemites and the illegal settlers may benefit most. An unnamed separation exists amid the apparently benign streetscape.

JLRT Safety banner – Shu’afat, Jerusalem – 10 Dec. 2010 – Photo: Sherry Ann

I regard Jean Zaru’s analytic lens helpful. She writes:

“Structural violence is silent. It does not show. Television captures the direct violence and most often the violence of the powerless and the hopeless, and it is headlined as terror. One basic weakness in most conceptualizations of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the basic assumption of symmetry, which views contending parties in conflict as being equal. After all, the conflict is there because we are unequal. We are unequal in access to power, media, and influence. But we insist that we are not unequal in our rights.” (Zaru, 2008, p. 62)

The corporate complicity in the construction of the JLRT is a dimension of economic support for the Israeli Government’s occupation of East Jerusalem. See this article and its references for more info.

Peace from the Old City Ramparts - JLRT tracks, Green Line - Jerusalem - 13 Feb. 2011 - Photo: Sherry Ann

With this posting, I am beginning my transition from an on-the-ground witness as an Ecumenical Accompanier. Over the next week or two, I will return to the vantage point of Canada. I will become an Ecumenical Advocate holding dear the relationships that I’ve developed here with those who have shared their experiences with me.

Please pass along the address for this blog to friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. Check out the links for various publications. We need to start talking about these silent forms of violence as much as we talk about the news headlines. In this way, we as global citizens can contribute to ending the silence and the occupation.

* Jean Zaru is the Presiding Clerk of the Friends Meeting House in Ramallah and a founding member of Sabeel, an ecumenical Palestine Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.

For additional information, see:

Barghouti, O. (2009). Derailing Injustice: Palestinian Civil Resistance to the “Jerusalem Light Rail”. Jerusalem Quarterly, 38, 46-58. Available here.

The Civic Coalition for Defending Palestinians’ Rights in Jerusalem. (2009). The Jerusalem Light Rail Train: Consequences and Effect. Jerusalem: Authors. Available here.  

Diakonia’s webpage regarding the JLRT and its violation of international humanitarian law. Available here.  

Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. See: http://www.eappi.org/

Human Rights Watch. (2010, Dec.). Separate and Unequal: Israel’s Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. New York: Authors. Available here

Zaru, Jean. (2008). Occupied with Nonviolence: A Palestinian Woman Speaks. Foreword by Rosemary Radford Ruether. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

3 thoughts on ““Structural violence is silent.”

  1. Such a ‘silent’ way of discriminating! Without the comments you provide, one could well think ‘how wonderful — modern transportation for everyone!’

  2. Pingback: Standing for justice through nonviolent means. | EA Stories4Peace

  3. Pingback: A choice: Human security – Dear Ambassador Bercovici… | Peacing Stories

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